How Do You Measure (Measure) a Year?

It’s been—well, just nearly—a year since I did it. Something like 359 days ago, I packed up my four years of becoming into my car, and I drove them home to my parents’ garage. I stacked the day that my Pulitzer-prize-winning professor wrote, “This sentence is a train wreck” alongside the day he told me, “You’re going to be a great writer.” I nestled the night I decided not to go to grad school into a box with the afternoon I applied for a job at Alabama Alumni Magazine. Into my bags of shoes I threw the moment we broke up, the letters I wrote, the weekends at the lake. I packed a jar of rocks that symbolized nothing (it sits on my windowsill now) in the same bin as my notebook of James Joyce notes, which also symbolizes nothing, but which I will keep forever. I packed up plates and spatulas and I did as a different person than even the one who’d been there just the day before. The very acts themselves, the sorting-through, the packing up, the driving away, they all seemed to make one last effort to stamp me. “You’re not quite finished!” that city insisted. “One more thing before you go….” I played alt-J’s “Matilda” over and over and over, just to hear the line, “Just like Johnny Flynn said, the breath I’ve taken and the one I must to go on.” last sunsetI remember how hard it was to say goodbye. (You probably do, too. I wrote about it again and again and again and yet again.) For as hard as it was, I left feeling satisfied that I’d done it properly. I left feeling sure that I’d squeezed out every ounce of rock sitting, river gazing, sunset chasing, library loving, friendship making, and becoming I could have. And I must have, because I eased onto I-20, pointed my SUV (which was carrying the contents of my entire closet) toward Birmingham, and never looked back. (Like Mary Oliver says, to live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.) But that is not to say that I didn’t bring some things with me. IMG_6199 I have this tendency to look back, I know. I also have this tendency to reach forward. And I am constantly trying to stand in the present (like Mary Oliver says, sometimes I need only to stand where I am to be blessed.) The good part about this is that I’m pretty aware, aware of what’s changing and what’s the same, aware of how long it’s been and long it will be, aware of how perfect or imperfect this right now is. And still, I am taken aback when these dates come up. I like them, though; like telephone poles along my way, they encourage me to look up. “Take note,” they say. They ask me questions I do and don’t want to answer: Do you like who you are? Are you different than you were? Are you proud? How could you be kinder, gentler, more loving? (Perspective: It’s OK if I never learn to cook, but it’s not OK if I haven’t gotten better at loving a year from now.) I can’t answer them quite yet. But I’m looking up. IMG_6039 And then there’s what’s happened in the past 359 days. The job, the home, the city, the friendships, the love, the coffee, the $900 tires that I’ll never get over: If I’ve learned anything—and I’ve learned this time and again, in the last year and in the year before that and in the year before that—it’s that we serve a good God. A faithful God. A loving God, a God who has the most remarkable knack for making our lives reflect his beauty, his grace, his patience, his mercy—a God who makes us look like him—and who, in his goodness, make these things really awesome for us at the same time. IMG_6355 But anyway, when I packed up my car and drove away, I was the most peaceful I’d ever been, despite being jobless, homeless, and probably in desperate need of an eyebrow wax. What a gift it was to understand how true the peace of God is, how it supersedes the world every single time. What a gift it was to have a front-row ticket to my own life, wherein the world was seemingly rearranged to “work out” (“And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.” [Matthew 6:30]). How fist-clenchingly, wet-armpitsingly difficult it was to trust. How many of these lessons I am still learning. Like Mary Oliver says, you can have the other words—chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. And this I can say for certain: I have seen and tasted that he is good. So very good. The point of all of it was that I would just that and that I would tell the world about it. If I can get that across with my words/my life, then I’m satisfied (and just so we’re clear, I have to remind myself of that sometimes. I mean, just in case you were already monogramming my martyr hat.) onestepatatimeAnd though I am different—love and $900 tires will do that to a girl—I stand in so many of the same places. I learn still to trust, to sing, to turn my hands up to the sky, to tell the world about it. There are things I learned and then forgot, things I should have right by now but fail at nonetheless, things I wonder if I’ll ever get down. There are days when you’d wonder if I ever learned any of it at all, days when I break my own heart with lackluster loving, days when I am the only thing standing in my way and still, I refuse to move. And there are days when I stand on the sidewalk and stare up, unable to move because the wonder of life and God and the sky has me drenched again. Sometimes, those days are the same days. Life is a funny little (big) thing. IMG_6322 Best of all, perhaps, is that nothing ended (OK, except college) when I moved, and in the same way, nothing (OK, except real life) began. I felt that wonder in Tuscaloosa, and I found it in Birmingham. There, I became; here, I become. Wherever I go from here, I feel certain there will be the sky and there will be the Lord and there will be the wonder; at least, that is my prayer. Like Johnny Flynn said, the breath I’ve taken and the one I must to go on. IMG_6187

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